James MacAlister papers
Held at: Drexel University: Archives and Special Collections [Contact Us]W. W. Hagerty Library, 3300 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Drexel University: Archives and Special Collections. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
James MacAlister served as the first president of the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry from its opening in 1891 until his retirement in 1913. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1840 and emigrated with his family to Wisconsin in 1850. After attending Brown University for three years, receiving a degree from Albany Law School in 1864, and practicing law for several years, MacAlister was appointed superintendent of the Milwaukee public school system in 1874 and regent of Wisconsin normal schools in 1878. He was chosen to become the first superintendent of the Philadelphia public school system in 1883, where he was a proponent for technical and vocational education. He wrote a book on the subject, Manual Training in the Philadelphia Public Schools, in 1890 [copy available in the collection].
MacAlister was chosen as the first president of the Drexel Institute because of his belief in the value of practical training in the industrial fields, and he was an advocate for vocational education throughout his term. During his tenure, the institute offered informal courses of study in art and illustration, mechanic arts, domestic arts and sciences, commerce and finance, teacher training, physical education, and librarianship. Public lectures and programs, evening classes, and access to the library and museum were also organized to open the institute to the general public. MacAlister presided over the closing of the department of art (except for the architecture program) in 1905, the physical expansion of the school from the Main Building to additional buildings on Chestnut and 32nd streets, and the growth in the graduation rate from approximately 70 in 1891 to over 500 in 1913.
MacAlister was a member of the board of trustees of the University of Pennsylvania from 1885 to 1897. He joined the board of the Fairmount Park Art Association in 1893. MacAlister retired as Drexel’s president in June of 1913 due to failing health. He died shortly thereafter, on Dec. 11.
The MacAlister papers consist largely of correspondence, mostly by Dr. MacAlister but some letters addressed to him; subjects covered include MacAlister’s views on technical education and the administrative and financial concerns of operating the Drexel Institute. Of particular interest among the correspondence are a set of letters to Wilson Brothers and Co., an engineering and architectural firm, pertaining to the construction of Drexel's Main Building, as well as correspondence with notable figures such as Booker T. Washington and Andrew Carnegie. In addition to correspondence, the collection also contains a copy of MacAlister’s book, Manual Training in the Philadelphia Public Schools; addresses and a set of lectures by Dr. MacAlister; a brief set of financial records; and Dr. MacAlister’s personal notebook.
Before coming to the archives, the collection was used as research material for the writing of the book Drexel Institute of Technology 1891-1941: A Memorial History. MacAlister’s correspondence was arranged and heavily annotated by Harriet E. Worrell, who worked as a research assistant for the book. Ms. Worrell served as secretary to President Matheson from 1924 and secretary of the Alumni Association from 1925. The series labeled “research files” includes records produced or gathered by her in preparation for the book. Within the correspondence series, all of the handwritten notes on typing paper, and any of the typed copies of letters that are interfiled with the originals, are believed to be the work of Ms. Worrell.
Series within the collection are arranged alphabetically by subject, with the exception of correspondence, which is placed first because of its size. Within the series, correspondence is arranged chronologically. Many letters have been clipped, annotated, and/or retyped by Harriet Worrell. Photocopies and retyped copies of letters found in Ms. Worrell’s research notes, as well as some typed copies of letters not found in the original form, have been interfiled with the original MacAlister letters compiled by Ms. Worrell. Ms. Worrell’s research notes have been divided by the archivist into biographical notes about James MacAlister and notes pertaining to the early history of the Drexel Institute. Within the Drexel history file, broad overviews of the institute and its departments are at the beginning, followed by correspondence and research notes, and the list of faculty toward the end.
- Financial records
- Research papers
BibliographyMcDonald, Edward D., and Edward M. Hinton. Drexel Institute of Technology 1891-1941: A Memorial History. Philadelphia: Haddon Craftsmen, Inc., 1942.
Date and circumstances of transfer to the archives unknown.
- Drexel University: Archives and Special Collections
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Megan Manchester
- Finding Aid Date
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Consult archivist regarding copyright restrictions.
This series includes a number of letters with prominent national figures, especially in the field of education, including Booker T. Washington; Andrew Carnegie; Major General John R. Brooke, military governor of Cuba, regarding the establishment of a school there; James H. Garfield, president of Ohio State University; and D. B. Johnson, president of Winthrop Normal and Industrial College. Prominent figures in Drexel’s history represented in the collection include Howard Pyle, art instructor at the Drexel Institute; the Wilson Brothers, architects of the Main Building; Mother Katharine M. Drexel; George W. Childs; Colonel Anthony J. Drexel Jr.; and James W. Paul, a founding member of the board of trustees. Many of Dr. MacAlister’s letters focus on his views on technical and vocational education and practical advice to other educators in the same field. Other subjects include the day-to-day administration of the Drexel Institute, student and faculty affairs, the curriculum, and faculty recommendations to other education administrators. Arrangement is chronological.Physical Description
Contains a letter to Booker T. Washington.
Contains a letter to Booker T. Washington.
Contains a letter to Andrew Carnegie.
Contains a letter to Booker T. Washington.
Addresses by MacAlister and by Hon. Wayne MacVeagh at the dedication of the Drexel Institute, 1891; MacAlister’s address in honor of George W. Childs, 1894; undated address by James MacAlister entitled “A Business Man’s Education.”Physical Description
MacAlister's book, Manual Training in the Public Schools of Philadelphia.Physical Description
A brief set of financial records containing estimates for construction projects, undated, and a receipt verifying a deposit from the registrar to the treasurer.Physical Description
A set of seven lectures entitled “President MacAlister’s Lectures on the History of Books” (lecture one: “President MacAlister’s Lectures on the History of Books and Printing”). Lectures are undated, but attached to the first lecture are two invitation cards dated 1906 and 1911.Physical Description
Entitled “Extracts and notes” and written in MacAlister’s own hand. Contains scripture passages, quotations, clippings from newspapers, and some comments by MacAlister. Quotations and clippings are usually labeled by topic, such as “The Ideal Life,” “Marriage,” “Growth of Intelligence in England,” “Immortality.” Entries deal with topics such as religion, happiness, art, language, education, historical figures, and morality and ethics.Physical Description
This series represents the research notes believed to be compiled by Harriet Worrell in her research for the third chapter of Drexel Institute of Technology 1891-1941: A Memorial History, which is entitled “James MacAlister.” The folders contain an assortment of materials and formats, such as typed and handwritten notes on MacAlister’s life and on the early history of the Drexel Institute, original and retyped newspaper clippings, correspondence with and about prominent figures in the institute’s history, responses to reference inquiries, copies of early public announcements, and Ms. Worrell’s notes and handwritten lists.
Materials dated before 1924 are retyped copies of or excerpts from original documents. Some of the handwritten notes are in shorthand. Items of particular interest to individuals researching Drexel Institute history include a list of the faculty at the time of the founding.Physical Description